Sleep is one of the most important ways that you can improve your health. Sleep helps support good physical, mental, spiritual, and social health. These sleeping tips can help you learn how to improve your sleep so that you can fall asleep more easily and stay asleep.
For more details on why sleep is so important to our health, be sure to listen to episode 23 of The Working Mom’s Balance podcast.
There is no aspect of your wellness that is not affected by sleep deprivation. If you want to improve your health, lose weight, better manage your emotions, or even boost your relationships, getting a good night’s sleep consistently is one of the best things you can do.
With any new habit, but especially with sleep, consistency is important. You want to create patterns and routines of rest that will help your brain learn how and when to sleep. It will take time to establish these patterns and to see the results from them. Intentionally commit to sticking with these habits for the long-term so that you can improve your sleep and give your body and health the rest it needs.
1. Establish a consistent bedtime.
One of the best things you can do to help your brain support you in getting enough sleep is to create a pattern that your brain can depend on. You have an internal 24-hour master clock. Your brain and body thrive on regularity. If you are constantly changing your 24-hour cycle, your brain and body will struggle to keep up. Pick a bedtime that allows you to get at least 8 hours of sleep at night and then stick with it as closely as possible.
2. Create a wind-down routine.
If you struggle to fall asleep quickly at night, your brain probably needs support in recognizing when it is time to go to sleep. Again, your brain loves regularity and routines it can rely on. Create a routine that helps prepare your mind and body for sleep. This could involve lowering the lights and stopping your use of electronic devices an hour before bed. Read a book, listen to music, chat with your spouse or children, or anything else that helps to calm you and keep you away from screens. You also want to create a routine that might involve things like washing and moisturizing your face, brushing your teeth, and any other self-care and hygiene activities that you’d like. Some people also spend time praying or meditating as part of their wind-down routine.
3. Sleep in darkness.
Melatonin is naturally produced by your body as your surroundings become dark. Melatonin helps your body feel drowsy. This is why I suggested that you begin lowering the light levels in your house about an hour before bedtime. You also want your room to be completely dark while you sleep. You can use blackout curtains and remove bright alarm clocks and other electronics that give off light. If you do use a device close to bedtime, be sure to use a blue light filter or blue light blocking glasses. Blue light (and any light really) suppresses melatonin release.
In the same vein, you can train your body to stop producing melatonin by exposure to light, In the mornings be sure to turn on lights and open curtains so that your body is exposed to natural and blue light. This can help to reset your internal clock to help establish your sleep and wake routines.
4. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
I’m not saying that you can’t drink any alcohol or ingest any caffeine, but you do want to pay attention to how it affects your body. Some people are more sensitive than others and can’t handle alcohol or caffeine at all. Others can have a moderate amount earlier in the day. And many others see no effect at all on their sleep. Experiment with your own consumption to determine how and when alcohol or caffeine affects your ability to sleep so you can make better decisions.
5. Keep it cool.
As someone who is always cold, this is my least favorite suggestion, but it turns out that it works. In order for your body to fall asleep, your body temperature must drop by 2-3 degrees. You can support this natural process by lowering the temperature in your house at night. The suggested best temperature, according to research, is 65 degrees.
We recently got a smart thermostat that automatically lowers the temperature in our home around the time that we are going to bed (the lowest I’m willing to go is 69 degrees, but it still helps). I have it set to warm back up about an hour before I get out of bed in the morning. Everyone knows that it’s so much harder to get out of bed in the morning when it’s cold. My husband starts his day much later than I do, but the rise in temperature at 4 am each morning keeps waking him up. So, while a smart thermostat is incredibly helpful for managing the temperature in your home, you will want to experiment and negotiate with the other members of your household to find a solution that works best for everyone’s sleeping patterns.
6. Get out of bed when you can’t sleep.
Sometimes you toss and turn and can’t fall asleep. This happens to everyone at least once in a while, but for some people, this becomes a regular situation. When you spend extended amounts of time in your bed not sleeping it confuses your brain. Especially if you’re scrolling through your phone (absorbing all that blue light!), worrying, or reading. If you find yourself awake and unable to fall back to sleep, the best advice is to give yourself no more than 25 minutes of trying to fall asleep before you get up. Get out of bed and go do something in another room. You can come back to bed when you are feeling sleepy. This helps train your brain to associate the bed with sleep and nothing else. Only be in bed when you are sleepy and ready to sleep.
7. Exercise regularly, well before bedtime.
Regular exercise is actually one of the best ways to improve your sleep and reduce insomnia. Exercise has been shown to help people fall asleep faster, reduce wakefulness at night, and decrease anxiety. However, exercise can have a stimulant effect for some people so you want to make sure that you schedule your exercise to be completed at least a few hours before bedtime.
8. See a doctor if things don’t improve.
If you make a concerted effort to improve your sleep for a couple weeks and you don’t see any improvements in the quality or your ability to sleep, then it’s time to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can determine if there are any sleep disorders or underlying medical causes that are keeping you from getting the rest you need. Medications and supplements may be useful if you need additional support.
Today’s Action Step to Improve Your Sleep
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep it can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting. Use the tips above to develop a bedtime routine and strategy that best fits your life. Know that developing habits and patterns takes time. One night of rest won’t fix your problems if you’re feeling chronically exhausted and weary. You’ll need to stick with your new habits for a while to allow your brain and body the chance to relearn how to rest well. The important part is to make the decision to start taking your sleep more seriously and create a plan that you can stick with.